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Pontypridd schools and sixth forms given reprieve as High Court rules against council’s closure plans

Schools and sixth forms in Pontypridd have been saved from closure – for now at least – after a “landmark” legal judgement.

Local campaigners won a High Court challenge over proposed changes to schools in Pontypridd in what their legal team described as “a landmark ruling”.

Rhondda Cynon Taf Council’s controversial plans to re organise and shut schools including Pontypridd and Hawthorn High schools were quashed today at the order of a High Court Judge following a judicial review by local campaigners.

Our Children First (Ein Plant Yn Gyntaf), a group of local parents, young people, governors and Councillors supported the case against Rhonda Cynon Taf Council’s £37m plans, which were to proceed despite widespread opposition. The council will now have to go back to the drawing board.

Its plans would have seen two new 3-16 “super schools” created on the sites of Pontypridd High School and Hawthorn High School and a new Welsh medium school where Heol y Celyn Primary School currently is in Rhydyfelin.

They would also have meant the closure of Pontypridd High, Hawthorn High, Hawthorn Primary, Cilfynydd Primary, Ysgol Pont Sion Norton and Heol y Celyn Primary and the closure of sixth forms at Pontypridd High, Hawthorn High and Cardinal Newman Catholic Comprehensive.

New post-16 places would have been provided at Bryncelynnog Comprehensive in Beddau and Coleg y Cymoedd in Nantgarw with the Catholic education option being St David’s College in Cardiff.

The council hoped the new “super schools” would be up and running by September 2022 with funding including a 65% contribution from Welsh Government

But in a High Court ruling released on Thursday, July 30, Cardiff, following a hearing last month, Mr Justice Fraser found that Rhondda Cynon Taf Council breached The School Standards and Organisation (Wales) Act 2013 by failing to refer to the Welsh Government proposals to close a sixth form, whether the remainder of the school is to stay open or not.

The proposal to close the Cardinal Newman sixth form had already gone before the minister for approval but the proposals for Pontypridd High School and Hawthorn High School had not.

Responding to the judgement, Cllr Andrew Morgan, leader of Rhondda Cynon Taf Council, said: “The council will now need to consider the content of this judgment fully, before determining how to respond to this decision.

“Throughout this progress the overriding objective of the council has been to positively transform the delivery of education, through the mediums of both Welsh and English in the Greater Pontypridd area, by delivering significant investment, which would improve the opportunities available to young people.”

Michael Imperato, Partner at Wales’ leading claimant Judicial Review solicitors, Cardiff-based Watkins & Gunn, who brought the case to court, said the ruling had implications for any future plans to close sixth forms or close or reorganise Welsh medium schools. The hearing also highlighted the importance of the Welsh Language as having equal standing in law in Wales, he said.

“The Welsh version of the legislation was found to be clearer in meaning than the English equivalent, with the English speaking judge painstakingly being led through both versions at the hearing,” he said.

“This ruling also goes against the Welsh Government previous interpretation of its own legislation, meaning that future proposals, involving sixth forms, will now need to be looked at in a completely different light.”

The other winning argument for the campaigners was that Rhondda Cynon Taf Council failed to take into account how the proposals might impact sustainability and enhancement of Welsh medium education locally.

The court found that re organisation of primary Welsh medium education would have an impact upon Welsh medium secondary education but the council had failed to consider this in accordance with the Welsh School Organisation law and guidance.

The judge said that: “The fewer pupils who enjoy a Welsh medium primary education, the fewer are likely to attend Welsh medium secondary education” and added such pupils are “lost for ever. Again, this is a ruling which will have enormous impact in Welsh Education and will have to be considered in any school closure or re organisation involving Welsh Medium education going forward,” said Mr Imperato. I am delighted for our clients who have worked so hard in this matter. This is a landmark legal case emphasising the importance of Welsh in its standing as a language of the law. Also, it emphasises that councils must consider the ripple effect of changes to Welsh medium education across the whole of its school community,not just those school directly impacted.”

Representing the claimant at the hearing were Welsh speaking barristers Rhodri Williams QC and Nia Gowman of 30 Park Place Chambers in Cardiff.

Mr Williams said it was also “a landmark ruling for the significance of Welsh legislation in Wales”.

“Never again will it be sufficient to argue that the English language version of a statute dictates what the meaning of the law is. From now on, all those concerned with the proper implementation of legislation in Wales will need to bear in mind both language versions.

“At long last, true equality before the law for Wales’ two languages has been established by the courts.”

Cathy Lisles, Chair of Our Children First (Ein Plant Yn Gyntaf) said: ““The Group is delighted that the judiciary has seen the merits of our arguments and concerns.

“This is not just a victory for concerned parents and pupils in Pontypridd butfor all in Wales. We hope and trust that rather than continue the legal fight, the Council will reach out to us and work constructively going forward to improve education for all in RCT.”.”

Katie Hadley, a campaigner and parent with a child attending Ysgol Pont Sion Norton said: ““We are delighted with the decision today as it is a major step forward.

“Even in these challenging and uncertain times, as a Group we have continued to press for a plan for 21st Century schools in the Pontypridd area that will work for all the children, young people, parents and families that live in the valley. Following the court’s decision, we want to see the council going back to the drawing board and carrying out a fresh consultation with a full range alternative options to choose from rather than going for a one option fits all approach. Now, more than ever, it is a matter of everyone working together to secure the best outcomes for the future education of our children and making sure they, above all, come first.”

The campaigners called on the Council to improve the consultation process and offer a full range of options, ensuring that “the voices of children and young people, parents and education professionals are considered from the outset”.

 

Article originally appeared on Wales online

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